80 Ways to Steal Valuable Minutes for Your Work Day
We're all too busy. We're living and working in an age with countless online and offline inputs, leaving little time for us. If you're anything like me, you wish there were another couple of hours in every work day. Or at least a few clones of myself to do things like email and laundry.
I've asked some of the top small business and productivity bloggers and consultants to share some of their best tips on how they add more time to their days. They've got some excellent advice, and each unique to their industry and talents.
Chris Brogan, ChrisBrogan.com
- "I don't watch television, so that gives me several minutes (or hours) most people don't have."
- "I also use my waiting-in-line time to answer emails and manage my calendar."
- "Further, I try to relegate lower-end tasks to my 'scrap' time so that I get more unbroken 'good' time when I can find it."
Liz Strauss, Successful Blog
- "Leave the last task of each day 'almost done'. Then in the morning you can hit the ground running. You won't spend time deciding what to do and will start with a feeling of accomplishment."
- "Establish an early morning no interruption time. Use the first hour or two of work to work on things that require focus. You'll get more done. Email, phone calls, and interruptions have a way of expanding to fit the time we allow them."
- "Take 15 minutes at a specified point of the day—maybe before lunch —to work on something that's your passion ... at the end of a week you will have put more than an hour into that one thing."
- "Get a great phone notepad and calendar app. You won't be spending time rewriting dates and information for meetings."
Anita Campbell, Small Business Trends
- "Organize your online accounts with a 'business dashboard'. If you have a significant presence online and manage multiple websites, it pays to organize your entry point, so that you don’t have to hunt around for screens to log into. You can also coordinate some of your stats into a simple dashboard, to manage your online operations by seeing key stats at a glance. I explained how to do this a few years ago, using a free Netvibes account. I also wrote here at OPEN Forum about taming social media by using a Netvibes start page."
- "Set aside a 'recharging' space to organize all your gear for travel. If you travel on business regularly, you know how important it is to have the right technology so you can continue to do business while on the road. Set aside space on your credenza or somewhere else in your office, just to charge up your gear, download software updates and get everything ready for trips. It will save you loads of time and frustration. Here are some more of my tips about business travel."
Jonathan Fields, JonathanFields.com
- "Exercise - It sounds counter-intuitive. You have to spend time exercising. But, research has shown that exercise boosts cognitive function, creativity, problem solving and productivity. In fact a NASA study showed employees who exercised daily worked at 100% efficiency after 7 hours, while those who didn't saw a 50% drop, meaning it took them twice as long to accomplish the same thing. So, exercise, in effect, creates time."
- "Batch & Focus - Multitasking kills time. Again, sounds counter-intuitive. But, every time you switch your attention, there's a cognitive ramp up time. It can range from a few seconds to a few minutes. So, if you constantly cycle between checking email, IM, twitter, texts, voicemail, calendars, blackberries, apps, scores, stock quotes, news, current projects and more, then respond to each, the time you lose to incessant ramp-up becomes substantial. Instead, minimize time lost to nonstop cognitive ramping by batching your time and focusing on individual categories of tasks with intense, yet discrete bursts of attention."
- "Call - We've become so accustomed to doing everything digitally, trading flurries of emails, IMs and texts, we sometimes forget that we can get the same thing done in a fraction of the time with one or two quick phone calls."
- "Schedule meetings online - Check out online/smartphone scheduling apps, like Tungle or Timebridge that largely eliminate the back and forth needed to schedule meetings with multiple parties in different places."
Erin Doland, Unclutterer
- "One way to see a boost in productivity is to be explicit about your work when interacting with your coworkers, boss, clients, and vendors. Wear your progress on your sleeve. Be open and honest and leave politics to those who work in the Capitol building. Notify the people who are dependent on you of your status, especially when a glitch or event changes your deadline. When you communicate well and manage others' expectations, you help them to better manage their time. When others do the same with you, you can better coordinate your schedule and efficiently complete your work."
- "If you work for yourself or work from home, set strict office hours. This is an important rule for you and for everyone else in your life. These boundaries keep you at your desk and productive throughout the day and also remind people that you are a professional. When you're done with work for the day, clear your desk, hit the do-not-disturb button on your phone, turn off the light, and close the door."
Brian Tanaka, Brian Tanaka Consulting
- "I use a timer to limit the amount of time I spend on daily tasks such as 'inbox zero', 'snail mail zero', cranking through my lists, etc. This keeps me from getting distracted from what's really important during my day."
- "At the beginning of each meeting, be it in person or on the phone, I state right away what time the meeting has to end. That way it sets a limit, and the meeting is less likely to drag on when the other person knows my limits. It ensures that we take care of the important stuff before we run out of time."
- "Only be available in an interruptible way (ie. IM, phone, Skype) during set 'office hours' each day, rather than all day long. This allows me to be available to others without compromising my core time."
- "I try to do a few extra little items at the tail end of the day, when I'd ordinarily stop. This gives a small push to the end of the day, and helps wrap up some ticky-tack stuff I might otherwise leave for the next day."
Brett Kelly, BrettKelly.org
- "Make better usage of commute times. Listen to audio books, make calls, etc. I'll make use of Dragon dictation and Evernote on my iPhone and capture tons of ideas and thoughts."
- "Limit your TV. In fact, cut it out altogether. Would you really miss it anyway?"
- "I used to play computer games with my co-workers at lunch. Since I've cut them out, I've been much more productive by using that time on my personal projects."
Carolyn Heacock, Leading Kids Today
- "Start scheduling certain days to do certain things, so there is a flow to your week or your month. This adds structure to an otherwise crazy week."
- "It's been said many times before, but putting it into practice is hard: Do the things you don't want to do first."
Muhammad Saleem, MuhammadSaleem.com
- "I eat at my desk, or when I eat away from my desk it is usually with co-workers and we discuss what's going on that particular day."
- "During commutes I go through my email and feeds on my BlackBerry and respond to stuff on the go. This saves me time processing stuff when I'm at the office."
Danielle LaPorte, White Hot Truth
- "If you resent doing it - stop doing it. Outsource, delegate, phase it out, quit. Do whatever you have to do in order to get the resentment-inducing, energy-soaking tasks, projects, and clients off your plate. They are the biggest time suck there is. Those big resentment gigs slow you down, impede momentum and always seems to 'take forever.'"
- "Keep your ego in check. Don't let the popularity contest known as social media suck you in. If you focus on making quality stuff - from content to services, time frittered on Twitter and Facebook seems far less important - because it is."
- "Schedule creative time blocks. You can't be on top of you're creative game with endless interruptions. Personally, my best chapters, posts and strategic plans need about three hour time chunks for me to roll around in them and tie together the best parts. Undivided attention is the best time-bender there is."
Dominic Basulto, Endless Innovation
- "Use Evernote as a digital organizer - Finally get rid of all the scraps of paper, sticky notes and newspaper clippings that find their way into your bag, wallet or pocket. Using Evernote, you can snap photos of anything, take voice notes, clip text from the Web and then sort all of this content either online or using a mobile device. All of this multimedia content then has a home within Evernote, where you can easily search for content when you need it."
- "Ruthlessly pare down your e-mail inbox - As a first step, cancel any e-mail newsletter subscriptions that you do not read anymore. If you subscribe to more than one newsletter in a certain category (e.g. innovation newsletters), choose the one that delivers the most value to you on a daily basis. If you're still missing the other e-mail newsletters after two weeks, find out if they have a Twitter feed or some other way to receive their tidbits and advice. The e-mail inbox should only be for priority communication."
- "Re-claim life's 'interstitial' moments—Whether it's waiting in the hallway for an upcoming meeting or taking a cab to a client's office—use this time to catch up on e-mail, prep for an upcoming presentation, or jot down notes about a project. Those 3-5 minute blocks of time, when added up over the course of the week, can lead to increased productivity. For longer blocks of time (i.e. morning commutes), subscribe to an audio podcast via iTunes and use this time to make yourself smarter before the work day even starts."
Michael McLaughlin, Guerrilla Consulting
- "I add extra minutes to my day by defining when my work day is done. Using my daily planning approach, I know what needs to be done, and when. That allows me to create additional time to do the things I want to do—without stress."
- "During the day, I add extra time to my day by establishing 'no interruption' periods. During these periods, I focus my complete attention on specific activities without allowing myself to be interrupted by anything or anyone. This allows me to work faster, smarter, and it eventually leaves me more time to answer email, compose tweets, and make phone calls."
Jonathan Salem Baskin, Dim Bulb
- "My best trick for adding extra minutes to my day is to avoid losing minutes whenever possible, and the most common drain of minutes is being unfocused or working on non-priority items. When I assess a list of things I need to do, I prioritize them and generally scratch whatever ends up in last place. That frees up minutes I otherwise would have wasted."
- "Another tactic many of my clients use is the 'touch once' principle, which means they resolve things the first time they encounter them...whether opened email or a telephone call. If you avoid parking things in 'to do later' piles, whether actual or virtual, you free those minutes for more constructive work."
- "Finally, a technique I learned in a high school mechanical drafting class was to group like-executed tasks together, so don't just staple once but try to take care of any immediately obvious stapling needs. If you open your online calendar to add an appointment, check to see if there are others to add before you close it out. The time you don't spend doing these repetitive tasks will be extra time to focus on the work that matters."
Jeff Cornwall, The Entrepreneurial Mind
- "Too often, entrepreneurs do not prepare their employees before delegating to them. This results in the classic case of 'it is quicker to do it myself'. By investing the time in simple training, communicating a clear explanation of expectations, and documenting the basic process for them to follow, delegation will quickly become a way to free up time."
- "Although it is true that too much time is wasted in meetings, it does not follow that meetings are by nature a waste of time. Preparing for meetings ahead of time and make sure the outcome of the meeting is to improve the performance and productivity of everyone involved. Run each meeting with an iron hand so as to keep everyone on task and on agenda. Doing so will ensure that meetings have effective outcomes and are an efficient use of time."
Andrea Learned, Learned on Women
- "To add extra minutes, use a few minutes to prioritize important over urgent 'to-dos.' A lot of the 'urgents' are probably all in your head."
- "It has been said before, but I'll put it out there again—close email, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter for big chunks of your work day. "
- "Overall, you probably know for yourself what makes for a productive day and what is mainly distracting. Under most circumstances, it is your choice."
Becky McCray, Small Biz Survival
- "Be clear on what's important. It takes time up front to decide on priorities, plan, and set goals, but it saves you time during the day. Knowing what is really important makes it that much easier to say no, to kill off distractions, and to delegate to others."
- "Create an index card reminder. On one side of one index card, create the kind of reminder that motivates you. I'm a numbers person, so mine is full of measurable goals. You might want pictures or just a single word that reminds you of your priorities. Then keep that card in front of you while you work."
- "Use checklists. Make and use checklists of daily tasks. This saves you time in two ways: you will work more efficiently with a checklist in front of you, and you will spend less time trying to remember what still needs to be done. You can read more of my explanation of a social media marketing checklist here."
Andy Wibbels, AndyWibbels.com
- "Find a protein shake you like and order of case of them. Drink for breakfast and/or snack."
- "Have two laptop power adapters. One for work and one for home. That way you don't look for it or forget to bring it to work in the morning."
- "Develop a Leaving the House chant. For me it is 'keys-wallet-cellphone!' Makes it easier to not forget the important stuff."
Rich Brooks, Flyte Blog
- "Set up iGoogle for RSS feeds from industry leading blogs. That way, over a cup of coffee, I can catch up on the most important news that affects our industry and see trending topics based on who's blogging about what."
- "Write up tomorrow's to-do's before I leave the office today. I find that if I have a clean lined paper (physical or digital) of the most important to-dos for the next day, I can hit the ground running when I get into work the next day."
- "Ignore emails to my co-workers that I'm cc'd on. I've discovered a wonderful thing: my co-workers take care of business when I give them the chance! If the email is from an important client I may put it in an 'action items' folder and follow up with my co-worker later, but I always give them the opportunity of handling the situation themselves. I've found that if they need some extra guidance they'll ask for it, but more often than not any issues are solved without my intervention."
In addition to these great tips, I've added a few of my own methods of squeezing the most out of my work time.
- Start planning your day the night before. Leave your computer programs up and everything literally in place so you won't be distracted with other things like email and Twitter first thing in the morning.
- Don't waste small increments of time. We often dismiss little "breaks" to our days and space off. Ten minutes can make a big difference over the course of a day.
- Use social media in perspective. It's easy to get caught up in the "importance" of always being available and connected, letting these services dominate our work times.
- Before taking a break, get your workspace ready for the next "batch" of work. Get those phone numbers ready, pull up computer programs, and anything else that you might need for the next work session.
- Ask more questions. Often people view asking questions and relying on others as a weakness. I believe it can help you get closer to your workers and peers, as well as a time saver.
- Automate, automate, automate. From creating email filters, to automatically tracking my money spending, to setting groups of browser tabs to open with one click. The more you can automate, the more time you'll save.
- If I'm ever getting bogged down with a project, I immediately stop and do another unrelated task, like wash the dishes. A solution usually comes to me while I'm doing the other simple task . Plus I'm not wasting time beating my head against the wall. ( I've written more about this nifty hack here.)
- Early on I learned my "productive cycle". I'm most productive in the mornings and late afternoons, and my mid-afternoons are pitiful. So, I block my time accordingly to make the most of my energy. I write and do intensive tasks in the morning, and in the afternoon I'll catch up on email and friends.
- I make it a point to read, every day. The benefits of reading are many, and at the very least keeps you sharp and exercises your brain.
- Keep your todo list simple, and don't waste time playing with new tools, etc. There's always going to be shiny programs that promise to make your day faster and more efficient. Stick with one, and learn to rely on it.
- I try to eliminate "fiddlies" in my day. It's easy to get caught up in small tasks that consume large chunks of our day. Like tweaking our productivity tools or obsessing over layout elements in our blogs. Fiddlies keep us from doing the bigger, important tasks in our days.
- When I'm getting nothing done, I relocate to a coffee shop. Relocating helps me kick the doldrums and mentally gives me a fresh start.
- Try taking more breaks. You might be surprised at how much more focus you'll have for the entire day. Even small, five to ten minute breaks can be enough to keep that productivity surging the entire day.
- Don't put things down, put them away. It's mentally taxing to have cluttered areas around your workspace and home. Putting stuff away the first time saves minutes and improves your productivity.
- Stop trying to remember all your passwords and use a password manager like LastPass. LastPass helps you remember all your passwords and forms, and it syncs across different browsers and devices.
- Develop a routine to your day and stick with it. Routines give us a feeling of control over our day and help put us on "autopilot", keeping us from worrying about the little details of the day.
- Make the most of your work space. Add plants, make it an enjoyable place to work. After all, a happy worker is a productive worker.
- Improve your typing speed. Think about how much time you spend in email and other forms of online communication. Improving how fast you type could potentially add bunches of minutes to your day.
- Use a program like TextExpander to create keyboard shortcuts that fill in larger pieces of often-used text. You can create shortcuts for things like email signatures, or email greetings, or literally anything else that you find yourself writing often.
- Utilize Google Alerts and make the news you care about come to you, instead of having to search for it.
- Echosign is a handy way to send contracts and other documents that need to be signed, completely online. Not only does this keep you from printing and faxing documents, it also speeds up the back-and-forth between signing parties.
- Schedule doctor, haircut, dentist appointments for first thing in the morning. The earlier the appointment, the less likely it will be delayed.
- Don't plan too much into your day because, inevitably, Murphy's Law will happen. Make sure you've got a bit of buffer time to "expect the unexpected".
- One of the best things I've ever done professionally is develop a "calming routine". I make it a point to do things like read and exercise in the early morning, to ensure that I'm not burned out later in the day. We tend to skip things we know we should do (like exercise), in favor for things we "have" to do.
- Really dig into email filters and labels. These alone can automatically save you tons of time organizing your inbox.
- Start tracking your time with RescueTime. It really is an eye-opening experience. RescueTime will show you exactly where you're spending your time and how much. It shows you trends that you probably hadn't considered, like when you're most likely to visit Facebook. Knowing when you're vulnerable to distractions is incredibly valuable to your productivity.
- Use keyboard shortcut programs like Launchy, Quicksilver, or Spotlight to speed up tasks like opening programs and finding documents on your computer.
- Lump often-used documents in a folder on your desktop for quick access.
- Use CoTweet to divvy up responsibilities among your employees with your Twitter efforts. You can schedule tweets, search for your brand and other related keywords, plus easily keep a tab on your industry and reactions on Twitter.